I pretty much took six months off Film Mafia. Lecturing, reviewing, and other pursuits – I was a voter on the Golden Globes this year, for example – took up my work time. But a slate of sweet French films has brought me back. Bonjour, mes amis. Let’s preview this year’s…

Alliance Française French Film Festival!

As usual, 2023’s French Film Festival is vast and varied, reflecting the diversity of French cinema tastes. Highly commercial fare jostles for your attention with films based on real-life tough subject matter and extremely artful work.

A true highlight is Saint Omer, from writer-director Alice Diop, who redefines the courtroom drama by distilling it down to its essence. Almost an autobiographical story, the film follows a writer (Kayije Kagame, standing in for Diop) who attends the trial of a young mother (Guslagie Malanda, in a powerful performance) who stands accused, in the Northern city of Saint Omer, of one of those crimes that are unimaginable to most people. The trial is shown simply, methodically, organically, yet delivers human drama of the most intimately devastating kind, building to a stunningly thought-provoking climax. The film reeks of integrity and authenticity, with pitch-perfect naturalistic performances and compelling, if simple, mise-en-scene. It represents a true highlight of the festival.

Mia Hansen-Løve’s new movie, One Fine Morning, features Léa Seydoux as a young Parisienne struggling with the emotional complexities of caring for her degenerating father by adding to her own complex emotional landscape as the French do best: by having an affair with a married man. This oh-so-French set-up yields quiet rewards and an outstanding performance from Seydoux, who now sits amongst the top tier of French actresses.

Everybody Loves Jeanne mines similar emotional, tonal and narrative terrain, though not as successfully, as Jeanne (Blanche Gardin, who sits somewhat below the top tier) wrestles with her mother’s estate as she re-encounters a high-school friend. Although the film is French and everybody speaks French, it’s mainly set in Lisbon, and has sunny highlights peeking through its generally melancholic mists.

But the knockout surprise of the films I’ve been able to preview has been Michel Hazanavicius’ Final Cut, a wild satirical ride that also manages to pack a nice emotional punch. Romain Duris plays a film director planning a one-take, live zombie movie for broadcast on a Japanese website. The kicker is that we get to see the finished product first, and then go back and see how it was put together, which is both fascinating and frankly hilarious. I loved this crazy and warm look at the temporary families that are forged when film cast and crew are bound in pursuit of that one great shot.

The Alliance Française French Film Festival runs across Australia starting 7 March.

Benjamin Zeccola on Palace Cinemas’ Global Festival Slate (PODCAST)

Benjamin Zeccola on Palace Cinemas’ Global Festival Slate (PODCAST)

Benjamin Zeccola is CEO of Palace Cinemas, who run an ongoing slate of international film festivals across Australia throughout the year, including the French, Italian, Spanish, German, Scandinavian, British, Irish and Japanese Film Festivals. On this episode of Movieland, Benjamin talks about the humble beginnings and current strengths of his festival slate, the audience demand for such content, the challenges and rewards of sourcing and programming so much global product, and why Australia just may be the best country in the world for seeing European cinema on the big screen. This discussion will also form the basis for a future article in Metro Magazine and is posted with Metro’s permission.

Antoinette in the Cévennes

My ass.

Now playing around Australia as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival

Opening in Australian cinemas April 8

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From her very first scene in the very first episode of the French TV series Call My Agent, it was clear that Laure Calamy was a big comedic talent, destined for more than her supporting role in that very popular show. Bingo. She just won the César Award for Best Actress for her lead role in Caroline Vignal’s Antoinette in the Cévennes, a very slight, very light, very charming French countryside comedy whose success rests entirely on her shoulders. She’s not only in every scene, about half of them are with a donkey. She makes all of them work. Like Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts and Audrey Tatou, Calamy is a natural big-screen comedy star; like them, she has big dramatic chops in support.

The film itself is sunny and delightful (like Calamy). Antoinette is a Parisian teacher having an affair with a married man; when he goes on a trip with his family to the Cévennes, she follows, ill-advisedly, and ends up hiking with a donkey. Self-realisation follows.

Calamy nails every comedic beat but there are multiple moments of pathos and anguish which she also handles with seemingly effortless aplomb. She is a major screen presence. It is to the Césars’ credit that they’ve recognised this kind of performance, in this kind of film, for their Best Actress Award. Light comedy normally doesn’t get that kind of gong, unfairly. And talk about ‘backwards and in heels’: Calamy’s primary co-star is a donkey.

French Film Festival 2018 (Video)

CJ chats with Philippe Patel about 2018’s Alliance Française French Film Festival.


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